Pilot school bill passedPublished 12:10am Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The North Carolina Senate unanimously passed legislation (Senate Bill 125) Thursday allowing multiple school districts to collaborate and establish regional schools.
The concept came as a recommendation by the JOBS Commission, which Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton chairs.
The JOBS Commission called for creating three pilot schools to better align with jobs of the future: an agriscience/biotech school, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school and a language and global diplomacy school. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, a member of the JOBS Commission, was originally drafted to establish the agriscience/biotech school in northeast North Carolina. Interest in the concept prompted expansion of the measure to permit innovative, collaborative schools statewide. The agriscience/biotech school would remain an option under the measure.
Several officials answered questions about the legislation.
David Peoples, Washington County manager, offered some background on how the school could affect people in the area.
“We are estimating in the first year, if it does come here, that there would be between 20 and 30 students attending. That number would grow as time went along. That is subjective in nature,” he said. “We believe by year three there could be as many as 100 students in that high school. But they would not all be from Washington County. They could be coming from surrounding counties.”
Peoples gave an idea of how funding issues would be addressed.
“Let’s say that a student came out of Beaufort County school system; we used the example that Beaufort County’s average daily membership per student is $8,000. That $8,000 would be transferred with that student to this new high school to assist with paying for the operating costs for that facility,” he said.
Peoples also addressed governance issues.
“We were asked by the study commission to give our impressions as to how the school should be governed. We made recommendations that essentially said that the local board governing the school should be made up of members from each of the counties that would have young people attending that school,” he said. “These people may be citizens of the county. They might be a parent of a particular student. They may be an elected official. But the Washington County public school system would not be involved.”
Other groups have continued their interest in the school, according to Peoples.
“Washington County has been identified as the potential site. But to say that this bill is a done deal is not a fair statement. If the funding would not be made available here, the location maybe goes somewhere else. There are four other sites in the state that have been mentioned,” he said.
Marshall Stewart, associate director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, said that North Carolina State University is still collaborating with efforts to establish the school.
Stewart also commented on how N.C. State is addressing cuts in its overall budget while promoting the biotech school.
“I think the key is the partnership. This is more of a leveraging of existing resources and facilities for the young people that would be involved with the school,” he said.
State Sen. Harry Brown, the majority leader in the Senate and who was involved with the drafting of the regional-schools legislation, discussed the issue.
“There is no extra money to do this. The counties are going to have to see a benefit to offer this to their students. They are going to have to find a way to create these centers. If they can make it work, I think it will be a good model that can be duplicated later on,” he said.
Brown said establishing a center related to the sciences in his district is being considered.